We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.
For those of you unfamiliar with the source material (FOR SHAME!) The Dark Knight Returns is based on Frank Miller’s tale of the same title, which sees a fifty-five year old Bruce Wayne decide that Gotham’s not done with him yet. Putting on the cape and cowl once more, he has to relearn what it means to be the Dark Knight in a deadly new Gotham where supervillains and street crime have stepped up their game.
Peter Weller – yes, Robocop himself – is the voice beneath the cowl this time out. While I’m a staunch Conroy supporter, one of his greatest strengths was the empathy he could convey through his gruff growl. Weller’s almost, dare I say, robotic delivery suits the aged, disenfranchised hero of Miller’s tale. This is a Batman who has all but given up hope on the foes he faces and who has become much more singly focused on his crusade to clean up Gotham. Is it the city’s decay in his absence that has broken his spirit? Or does an aging Wayne foresee a time when Gotham won’t have him to lean on any more, offering up redoubled efforts to cleanse his city once and for all before going away for good?
The rest of the cast for part one includes David Selby as Commissioner Gordon, Wade Williams as Harvey Dent, and – most notably – Modern Family‘s Ariel Winter as Carrie Kelley/Robin. She “nailed it” as the chipper ass-kicker who joins our gruff and hulking hero in his campaign. The dichotomy between the two characters is brought beautifully to life in this animated portrayal; the entire cast (though some may have seemed an odd fit at first) will grow on you, galvanizing the characters’ key traits as they appeared on the page.
Which brings us to an important point – this isn’t Batman: Under the Red Hood. By that I mean to say that this is a near shot-for-shot translation of Miller’s source material. Things have been juggled and tweaked slightly, but in the end, this is the same story almost line for line.
The plus side, of course, is that you’ll get to relive all of your favorite moments from one of Batman’s greatest tales. The down side, however – and something I’ve bemoaned in the past – is that you’re not really getting anything new here. That said, no one made any bones about what this was going to be. This was always intended as an adaptation and it does well to follow the source material so closely. The greatest deviations come in the lack of narration. You won’t hear Bruce explain the yellow circle around the bat logo. You’ll miss some of those chilling inner monologues. But then… you won’t really miss them, per se. There’s more then enough going on here to keep you on the edge of your seat. Especially the final scene…
And there’s the biggest point of contention among fans – many feel that spreading this story across two movies is a blatant cash grab. Frankly, I feel it’s the only way to do the story justice. Part one chronicles our returning hero’s rise; part two shall be his inevitable fall. Moreover, condensing the story into a single film would have meant losing the final scene in the midst of a movie rather than leaving fans wanting more with a creepy crescendo.
Before I leave off, let me touch on that crescendo. I’m speaking metaphorically in reference to the script, but the film’s score is truly outstanding, setting the tone more than once and really helping to draw the audience in to each and every scene.
Whether you love Miller’s book or have never read it, this Direct-to-DVD release should fit your fancy just fine. And if you hated the source material (FOR SHAME!) then I’d say give this movie a chance just to see if the translation to animation maybe makes the story click for you? It sure as hell worked for me.
Now bring on part two and animated Reagan!
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (part 1) gets 4.5 out of 5 race car crashes and is available on DVD this Tuesday, September 25th!